Trigger warning: Some readers may find the following article distressing.
It’s been eight years and I still think about it every day. Sometimes for hours a day. Once you kill someone, life can never be the same again.
It happened on a bright sunny afternoon in late March, one of those unseasonably warm days that hints of the promise of summer to come. I was 28 and five months earlier I’d had my first child, a daughter, and I was just getting into the swing of motherhood after the hazy, sleep-starved first few months.
It was a Wednesday so my husband was at work, and I’d decided to take our daughter to the supermarket to get some bits for dinner, more as an activity to get us out of the house than any actual need.
This next bit is very hard to describe. And – perhaps this is the mind’s way of coping – I honestly can’t remember much of it. The sun was low in the sky, and as I drove off I remember flicking the sun visor down because it was so bright.
It was only a few minutes after I’d left the supermarket car park that I hit a pedestrian who was crossing the road. I remember braking hard, I remember his body hitting the windscreen, the shock of the impact reverberating around the car, the sound of smashing glass and someone screaming, which I quickly realised was me.
The next bit feels like a horror film. I turned my head to check on my daughter in the car seat behind me, before getting out and looking down at the man lying in the road.
All I remember was his grey hair and lots of blood. There were several people around my car, and a couple were already crouched down by the man’s head. There seemed to be people and cars surrounding me but I don’t remember much noise.
What must have only been moments later, a lady steered me to my daughter who I got out and walked away towards the back of my car. I felt like I was watching a film about my life and none of this was really happening. My hearing felt strange, as if I’d been plunged into water.
The ambulance seemed to arrive immediately, along with the police. I kept asking over and over how the man was, and one of the paramedics sat with me and my daughter in the back of an ambulance. I was like a zombie, but he helped me phone my husband. I couldn’t begin to think of how to say what had happened. I’ll never forget the look of sorrow and compassion on his face when he arrived.
The man was pronounced dead at the scene. I felt completely hollowed out and destroyed. My husband spoke to the police before taking me and my daughter home. There, I sat in a kitchen chair wailing, unable to hide my distress from my child. My sister came over so my husband could take me to the police station to give a statement. They treated me with kindness I didn’t feel I deserved, but wanted a level of detail I simply didn’t have. I remember endlessly repeating that it was my fault, and asking questions about the man who had died.
I was given an interim driving ban and sent home. There, despair enveloped me. A full stop was placed on what my life had been up until that point. I couldn’t think of anything other than the fact I had taken a life, and the unimaginable pain I had caused the victim and his family.
The days that followed are a blur of being catatonic or crying, while my husband did everything. Other than my family and best friend, people stayed away and I didn’t blame them.
The darkness that descended made me believe I had no right to go on living, and I felt a desperate wish to swap places with the man who had died. The story was in the local paper and online, and I was sickened to read my name but desperate to know about the man I had killed. He was in his 70s and left behind a wife, two children and grandchildren.
Weeks later at the inquest I pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. I hadn’t been drinking, I wasn’t speeding, and the driving conditions were difficult, but I didn’t want to carry on with my life the way it was. I wanted punishment – meaning prison – even though it would be torture to be separated from my husband and child.
The judge said that what happened had had an absolutely devastating effect on me, and that a prison sentence would not be appropriate, for reasons including the driving conditions and the fact I had a young child. You might expect some relief, but I felt a new wave of guilt. No verdict could change things, and my new life felt worse than any prison sentence.
I endlessly ask myself why this accident happened. I don’t believe in God, but for months I felt convinced it was karma, and that I somehow deserved what was happening. After the inquest I wanted to reach out to the victim’s family but knew this was probably selfish.
I’ve been in weekly counselling ever since, which has been a lifeline that’s helped me to process the trauma, guilt and responsibility. But eight years on I still feel my life is overshadowed by that one defining event. I often imagine my obituary as just a single line: 'When she was 28 she killed a man.'
I’ve never met any other people who’ve been through anything similar, but I’ve read a lot about CADIs (Causing Accidental Death or Injury) online, which has helped me understand that I’m not alone. I’m still too sickened to google myself and see the headlines, and doubt I ever will.
A couple of years after the accident we moved to a more rural town, so I do drive again now, but my anxiety often overwhelms me and I avoid driving when it's sunny or dark.
I feel a guilt no words can describe. But whatever the trauma has robbed me of is nothing compared to the pain the victim’s family continue to endure. There is no easy path to peace for me, and I know there never will be.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and would like to talk to someone, visit Mind, call 0300 123 3393, or text 86463.